Jonathan and Sarah Cantrell had friends encouraging them to visit Cambodia long before they made the trip this summer with People for Care and Learning.
Sarah Cantrell is best friends with PCL’s director Dr. Fred Garmon’s niece Rachel Hicks, while Jonathan Cantrell is best friends with Chuck Johnson who has made the trip twice.
“We supported a lot of missionaries growing up who went to Asia, so I was no stranger to the precious people of Asia,” Jonathan Cantrell said.
He said he had always planned on going on a missions trip later in life, but when the opportunity came he decided to try and make it happen. Jonathan said he doesn’t get to make such trips because of the business they own.
He said he enjoyed the entire trip. It also gave him an even deeper appreciation for his life in the States, he said.
“I’ve actually traveled quite a bit and I can honestly say it was the trip of our lifetime,” Sarah said. She pointed out she had visited 27 different countries in her travels.
“She’s kind of my little world traveler,” Jonathan said.
In January, she traveled to the Philipines, but most of her travels have taken her to Europe or Latin America. When Sarah got to know Garmon, she found the PCL vision something she could support.
However, visiting Cambodia was different for her.
“It was a very different experience for me,” she said. “I had never been to a Buddhist country.”
After seeing the promotional video for the Build a City project, Sarah felt it was something she wanted to play a part in.
“When I saw what they wanted to do, I just thought it was such an epic project that more than likely had never been done anywhere else in the world,” Sarah said.
She will help in fundraising for the houses that are being built in the new city. Major efforts will begin in October with events encouraging people to hold house parties to raise money for the project. She said $1,000 builds a house. The couple was able to tour a model home while in Cambodia.
“You get to live once, and I just feel so blessed in my life and wanted the opportunity to do something that will help people who are in dire need of something,” Sarah said.
She noted she had been discussing the possibility of making the trip with her husband for about a year before they made their decision.
During the trip, the couple was warmly received by the government in Phnom Penh. While in the city, the couple had military escorts and toured with the Governor of Phnom Penh. This isn’t typical, but was the city’s way of reciprocating how some of it representatives were received in Cleveland.
The Cantrells not only toured the Build a City project in Andong, but were also able to visit the orphanages that PCL has in the country.
At 6-foot-8 inches tall, Jonathan towered over many of the Cambodians.
“He was basically like a rock star,” Sarah said.
Jonathan said doing an arm muscle flex became a way to break the ice.
“No less than five or six pictures a day,” Jonathan pointed out.
He also found another way to connect with local children when he gave half a piece of gum to a local boy. Suddenly, children starting coming to him asking for gum.
Poverty in Cambodia is very different than here, Sarah said. Most people in Andong do not have jobs, and simply try to survive. Sarah said the history of Cambodia is important to understanding the poverty there. In the 1970s, intellectuals, older people and others were killed by the government of Pol Pot in an attempt to return Cambodia to an agrarian society. Access to clean water is also scarce. Even heating the water usually only kills about 50 percent of what needs to be killed in the water, Jonathan said. Clean water will be a major emphasis in the new city.
“They are such sweet people,” Jonathan said.
The Cantrells said their favorite highlight of the trip was being present for the dedication of the two-story marketplace, which provides a clean place for the people to sell produce and meat.
“That was just a special moment for me,” Jonathan said.
Originally from Texas, Sarah came to Cleveland to attend Lee University with plans to return to her home state. Her plans were changed when she married Jonathan. The couple had been introduced by a mutual friend. Jonathan had grown up in Bradley County.
“Coming from a big metropolitan city, it was a big change for me, but I have found life to be a lot easier,” Sarah said.
The couple has two young children.
The mission of PCL in Cambodia is “to give the poor a working chance.”